Kiddy Operetta

by Kieran Healy on March 29, 2006

The NYT has a piece about a new Nickelodeon show called Wonder Pets, which follows the adventures of guinea pig, a turtle and a duckling, three schoolroom pets. The show’s main innovation is its music. The program is “a series of operettas.”

“We wanted to find a way to have the music drive the show,” Mr. Selig said … “we found that kids responded well to having music at the center of everything,” with characters singing rather than simply speaking their parts.

Brown Johnson, Nickelodeon’s executive creative director for preschool television, said she believes operetta is an art form particularly suited to children. … The “Wonder Pets” music does not feature the tinny, saccharine melodies that often infect children’s television shows. Rather, each episode uses an original score recorded by a live orchestra overseen by Jeffrey Lesser, the Grammy-winning record producer … Which is not to say that the music is not repetitive. Like many operettas, “The Wonder Pets” is full of hummable recitatives that linger in the minds of both children and adults long after the performance ends.

In light of this, let me just come out and admit that my two-year-old is a slave to Gilbert and Sullivan. She seemed to like choral music whenever it was on the radio, and I remembered that a friend had told me a few years ago that his kids liked it a lot, too. So, like an idiot, I went and bought a CD of Gilbert and Sullivan favorites on the off chance one day. Now it’s all she listens to in the car. The other day in the supermarket she solemnly came out with “Stay close to your desks never go to sea … ha ha ha … and you all may be rulers of the Queen’s Navy.” It’s a mixed blessing. On the one hand, my daughter is perfectly happy. On the other hand, I now know all the words to “I Am The Very Model of a Modern Major General.” Next stop, Götterdämmerung.



Delicious Pundit 03.29.06 at 11:50 am

That’s funny, both my kids are into Irving Berlin…when I was a kid, we just took whatever was on AM radio. I wonder if a taste for non-mainstream music will be, or perhaps is, a reliable indicator of a certain class, e.g. “Get into the Prius, Sheridan, Daddy’s got Gil Scott-Heron!”


Kieran Healy 03.29.06 at 11:56 am

I wonder if a taste for non-mainstream music will be, or perhaps is, a reliable indicator of a certain class

Oh, absolutely.


Thomas 03.29.06 at 3:48 pm

A mention of a CD without the now-obligatory Amazon link?


Tim 03.29.06 at 4:12 pm

My brother and I knew all the words to all the songs of The Pirates of Penzance as small people. And we made pirate hats, mustaches, and swords, too, so we could act it all out. What a blast!!!


Urinated State of America 03.29.06 at 4:21 pm

“I wonder if a taste for non-mainstream music will be, or perhaps is, a reliable indicator of a certain class”

I don’t know, but my 2-year old seems to have taken a liking to 14th-15th century music and Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit”.

Also, because of a local (SF Bay Area) band called the “Sippy Cups”, who do kid-friendly covers of rock songs, he’ll periodically sing the Ramones’ “I wanna be sedated”.

Gilbert & Sullivan…hmm…worth a try.

He hates my progressive techno collection though.

For all the talk of the “terrible twos”, I think it’s a cute age.


Alex R 03.29.06 at 4:48 pm

I *don’t* know all the words to ““I Am The Very Model of a Modern Major General,” but was amused to see that Kieran’s weblog was the first Google hit for “antimony arsenic aluminum”…. *Those* words I know. :-)


Lalala 03.29.06 at 4:56 pm

My friends are ethnomusicologists and their 3 year old son fell totally in love with an American Indian music CD they had to listen to part of for teaching reasons. So every time they had on music their son would run yelling “Cheefankelson” – his version of “Chief Frank Nelson.” And they’d have to listen to it yet again, and even as ethnomusicologists believing there was value in all music blah blah blah, they did find that it sounded like a whining drone with a drum in the background.


John Lederer 03.29.06 at 10:21 pm

My broather and I at the ages of 4 and 5 would happily march around the house singing “For he is an Englishman..”


rachel 03.30.06 at 12:26 pm

Two of my favourites as a little kid (not at two, though, more like nine) were Candide (the original cast album) and The Threepenny Opera. Both great fun to sing along with, and some very, er, educational lyrics there — definitely an antidote to the kitschiness of G&S if that’s what’s bothering you.


Jeff 03.30.06 at 12:43 pm

“Wonder pets,Wonder pets, we’re on our way, to save the baby chimp and save the day- we’re not too big and we’re not too tough, but when we work together we’ve got the right stuff, GO WONDER PETS-YEAHHH.

Yes I am a 40 year old stay at home dad that has a 2 year old daughter now addicted to this show. Whew, go wonderpets… :)


Rob 03.31.06 at 6:36 pm

You may joke about Gotterdammerung, but when my daughter was small she caught a glimpse on video of the Met’s production (James Levine conducting) and insisted on watching it again and again (ironically when she caught it I’d been about to wipe the tape). No complaints from this Wagner junkie, but rather amusing for a child of about four.

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